You aren’t alone if you’re nervous about introducing eggs to your baby for fear that they will have a severe allergic reaction.
Australia is known as the allergy capital of the world. Food allergies are seen in 10% of babies, 4-8% of children and 2% of adults. Around 2% of babies have an allergy to eggs. Other Western countries have seen rises in the numbers of food allergies over the past 30 years. Hospital admissions for anaphylaxis has doubled in Australia, the UK and the US in the past decade. However, the good news is that young children often outgrow their food allergy.
The reasons for the rise in egg allergies are unknown but it is thought that the gut microbiome has changed due to food manufacturing, food production and the high quantity of sugar in our diets. Pregnant women are recommended not to avoid eating common allergy foods while pregnant so the foetus is exposed to these foods while in the womb.
Egg allergies can occur when the immune system believes certain egg proteins are harmful, so it releases histamine, causing an allergic reaction. Both the egg white and yolk contain proteins that can cause allergies. However, the white is more likely to cause an allergy than the yolk.
Some symptoms start within a minute of eating an egg while other symptoms may take an hour or more to appear. Egg allergy symptoms include:
If the allergic reaction is severe, anaphylaxis may occur with symptoms that may include:
Introducing Eggs to Your Baby
You might find introducing new foods to your baby a stressful experience. You have to remember which foods they have already tried without incidence and which higher risk foods you need to introduce before the age of 12 months. To your baby, it’s all food, so try to stay relaxed and enjoy your baby’s reaction to new foods.
When to Introduce Allergy Foods
Years ago, parents were recommended not to introduce known allergy foods before their baby was 12 months old. However, further research has shown that it is better to introduce these foods by the age of six months, but not start a baby on any solid foods before four months of age.
Babies with a family history of allergic diseases such as eczema and food allergies are at an increased risk of having a food allergy. Despite this, even children with no family history of food allergies may still have them.
The list of common food allergens includes peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, soy, sesame, fish and shellfish.
Babies with an egg allergy are at an increased risk of a peanut allergy, so they should be introduced to peanuts before the age of 12 months. Giving a baby smooth peanut butter before their first birthday can decrease the risk of developing a peanut allergy.
Trying Egg For the First Time
When your baby is between six and 12 months of age, introduce them to a small amount of cooked egg. Never give your child raw egg, as it can contain harmful bacteria that disappears during the cooking process. The egg can be served with other foods that have already been introduced and haven’t caused an allergic reaction such as a vegetable puree. Start by mixing ¼ teaspoon of hard boiled eggs into the puree. If there is no sign of an allergic reaction, increase the amount of egg to ½ teaspoon in a few days time. Continue to gradually increase the quantity of cooked egg each time you serve it.
Some parents like to start by smearing a potentially allergic food on their baby’s skin and watching for a reaction. However, this isn’t a reliable indicator of an allergic reaction. Babies’ skin is very sensitive and can react to the contact without it being an allergy. Smearing food on a baby with eczema can even increase the risk that they will develop an allergy to that food.
If you think your child is at high risk of a food allergy, you can introduce the food when you’re in close proximity to medical assistance such as the GP or hospital.
If your baby tolerates egg, continue including egg as part of a balanced diet. There is a chance that your baby will develop an allergy if they eat eggs once or twice then stop. If your baby tolerates egg in baked goods but has an allergic reaction when served egg on its own, don’t stop feeding them baked goods containing egg.
Diagnosing An Egg Allergy
If you think your child has an allergy to egg, don’t offer it again and see your doctor. The GP may order a skin test or blood test to diagnose the allergy. The skin test involves putting a tiny amount of egg extract on the skin and making a small prick or scratch on the skin. If there is swelling in the area, the child is sensitive to eggs.
If your child has an egg allergy, your doctor may prescribe epinephrine auto-injectors in case of a severe reaction. The adrenaline rapidly reverses the effects of anaphylaxis by reducing throat swelling and opening the airway.
Parents of a child with an allergy should learn to read food labels carefully by looking at the ingredients for egg, for statements like ‘may contain egg’, or ‘manufactured on equipment also used for egg.’ When preparing food at home for their child, they must take care that the food isn’t contaminated by coming into contact with eggs. Dishes and utensils must be washed thoroughly in hot water with dishwashing liquid to remove all traces of egg protein.
For more information about allergies, see the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and speak to your doctor.